A Proactive Approach to Preventing Chronic Disease

Six tips for staying healthy

Throughout the year, I’ve written about the cornerstones of personal wellness, including nutrition, physical activity, stress management, sleep hygiene and weight management. The last cornerstone, prevention and management of chronic diseases, is best achieved by adhering to the five others as closely as possible.

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The epidemic of chronic disease

The United States is a nation plagued by chronic disease. Consider the following:

  • Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, responsible for seven out of 10 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • As of 2012, about half of all adults – around 117 million people – had one or more chronic health conditions.
  • Treating people with chronic diseases accounts for 86 percent of all healthcare spending.
  • Four factors cause 75 percent of chronic diseases: tobacco, food choices and portion size, physical inactivity and stress.

Prevention is paramount

Prevention is the key to avoiding becoming a statistic yourself. Cleveland Clinic encourages everyone to have a yearly physical and develop a relationship with their primary care doctor. As nurses, we must care for ourselves first. Only then can we care for those in need – our patients.

As educators, we provide information to patients daily on how to improve their health and stabilize their illnesses. We need to take our own advice and start practicing what we preach.

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Use these prevention and management tips to help take control of your health:

  1. Get yearly physicals: Even if you think you are healthy and can skip that yearly appointment, you better think again. You should be aware of any early warning signs and “know your numbers,” including your blood pressure, total cholesterol, bad cholesterol (LDL), fasting glucose and weight/body mass index (BMI).
  2. Practice health maintenance: Know what tests or guidelines pertain to your age and health status. For example, starting at age 50 everyone should have a routine colonoscopy, then another every 10 years if the exam results were negative and there is no family history of colon cancer or other issues.
  3. Comply with all medications: If you have been prescribed a medication, follow the schedule of when you take it and create ways to remind yourself so you don’t miss a dose.
  4. Know your family history: Genetics play a major role in your health. You should know your blood relatives’ chronic medical conditions. But knowing your family’s medical history is just the first part: Part two is taking the initiative to prevent those conditions from happening to you. Be proactive!
  5. Kick the tobacco habit: We know the major complications associated with tobacco products. This habit is no longer “cool” and leads to many chronic diseases, poor overall health and a decreased life expectancy. Do it for yourself, your friends and your family and loved ones. Quit today!
  6. Become a self-advocate: You know your body better than anyone in a white coat. Become an educated patient, and develop a collaborative plan with your doctor. Medical professionals go to school for many years and are very knowledgeable, but not every individual is textbook. Advocate for yourself and loved ones if you believe you are not getting the medical attention you deserve.

Chronic diseases take their toll, collectively on our nation and personally on the individuals who suffer from them. While you can’t prevent everything, you can maximize your personal wellness by taking control of your nutrition, physical activity, stress management, sleep hygiene and weight management. You only live once. Why not feel good every day?

Mallory Hatmaker, MSN, BSN, CNP, is a regular contributor to Consult QD—Nursing. She is an Adult/Gerontology Certified Nurse Practitioner who has been a staff nurse at Cleveland Clinic since 2009. She currently works in the Employee Wellness and Internal Medicine Departments at Cleveland Clinic, where she spearheads an initiative on Nursing Wellness.